Monthly Archives: April 2009

By Michael Pomerleano

The Obama administration program to address the fragility of the banking system is based on a two major initiatives. First, it has proposed the Geithner- Summers Plan to buy subprime securitized assets from the banks. The toxic assets plan deals with less that 40 percent of the balance sheet of the banks that is in marketable securities. It does not deal with the 60 percent of the balance sheets of US banks that are loans and are not marked to market. Further, it will take six months to get the program in motion. The plan elicited deserved criticism from reputable analysts, including Paul Krugman in his NYT column. As Krugman points out in his column this plan is the third variant of an old plan to lift the value of toxic assets. The plan meets Einstein’s definition of madness: continuing to do the same thing, hoping for a different outcome. Jeff Sachs (FT, March 23), Joseph Stiglitz (NYT, April 1) and Peyton Young (FT, April 1) added their concerns that the plan nationalizes losses and privatizes profits.

The second part of the administration program is the now famous stress test of the nation’s largest banks. The other dimensions of the Geithner plan are the loan-purchase program run by the FDIC, the Treasury securities-purchase component of the PPIP is supplemented by the expanded Fed TALF program, and the various programs aimed at lowering rates in the conforming mortgage market.

This article argues that The Obama administration is in denial regarding the problems in the financial system. The losses in the banking system are not an “unknown unknown”. As shown below, the stress test calculations can be conducted by any informed analyst, and the losses are known with a reasonable degree with approximation. The stress test is simply a “smoke screen” designed to postpone the inevitable moment when the administration has to deal with the well known and severe problems in the banking system. 

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Did the meeting of the Group of 20 in London last week put the world economy on the path of sustainable recovery? The answer is no. Such meetings cannot resolve fundamental disagreements over what has gone wrong and how to put it right. As a result, the world is on a path towards an unsustainable recovery, as I argued last week. An unsustainable recovery might be better than none, but it is not good enough. 

By Michael Spence

Depending on who you ask, the pubilc private investment programme announced by Tim Geithner is either part of a solution to today’s banking crisis or an aggravator of the problems. This debate will likely widen as the US government moves from the design stage to implementation. 

By Ricardo J. Caballero

The most effective antidote for the devastating role of uncertainty in financial markets is some form of public insurance or guarantee. One of the great virtues of the PPIP (public private investment programme) for Legacy Assets is that it provides such a guarantee to potential investors in these assets, and by so doing, it boosts their bid-prices thus facilitating the removal of troubled assets from banks’ balance sheets. 

By Roger E. A Farmer

“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

Economic policy is in a muddle. Academic voices are flooding the blogosphere and the intelligent policymaker can be forgiven for being unclear as to which side to listen to. On one end of the spectrum are classical revisionists who blame government for distorting market outcomes. On the other are Keynesians who think that fiscal deficits will rescue capitalism from its excesses. Both are partly wrong. Both are partly right. 

By Laurence J Kotlikoff and Jeffrey Sachs

The Geithner-And-Summers Plan (GASP) to buy toxic assets from the banks is rightly scorned as an unnecessary give-away by virtually every independent economist who has looked at it. Its only friends are the Wall Street firms it is designed to bail out. 

The UK has followed the US and Japan into “unconventional monetary policy”. Meanwhile, Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England warns the UK government of the dangers of further discretionary fiscal stimulus. Yet what are the implications of the policies followed by central banks? Are these not the big threat to monetary stability? 

The following is Martin Wolf’s testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in the US, March 25, 2009

We are experiencing the most dangerous financial and economic crisis since the 1930s. But it is also a crisis for foreign policy: a deep recession will shake political stability a across the globe; and it threatens the long-standing US goal of an open and dynamic global economy. Perhaps most important, the US is currently seen as the source of the problem rather than the solution.

This crisis is, therefore, a devastating blow to US credibility and legitimacy across the world. If the US cannot manage free-market capitalism, who can? If free-market capitalism can bring such damage, why adopt it? If openness to the world economy brings such dangers, why risk it? As the shock turns to anger, not just in the US, but across the world, these questions are being asked. If the US wishes to obtain the right answers, it must address the crisis at home, and do what it can to rescue innocent victims abroad. This is not a matter of charity. It is a matter of enlightened self-interest. 

Ferguson illustration

The summit of the Group of 20 leading high-income and emerging countries in London on Thursday seems set to achieve progress. But achievement must be measured not just against past performances, but against “the fierce urgency of now”. Unfortunately, it will come up short.